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Tribal Historical Overview - Lakota Migration - The 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty

Intro | Lakota Migration | Establishment of the Reservation |
Breakup of the Reservation |

Lakota Migration | 1851 Treaty | Whitestone Hill | 1868 Treaty

The 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty

Treaty signing by William T. Sherman
1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. General
William T. Sherman and the Sioux sign
the treaty at Fort Laramie, Wyoming
Territory, 1868. (Photo taken by
Alexander Gardener, Smithsonian Institution)

Rather than addressing the issue of trespass in Sioux country, the government responded with talk of yet another treaty with the Sioux. Historically the federal government has had a poor record of honoring treaties negotiated with Indian tribes. As the need for land or resources developed, the federal government simply moved to change the provisions of previous treaties. Treaties are legal documents the United States government, as a sovereign nation, negotiates with another sovereign nation. Initially, treaties with tribal nations sought to define the relationship that existed between the U.S. and a tribe, but as time went on, the U.S. used treaties as a way to extinguish Indian rights to ancestral homelands. And so when Sioux treaty lands were overrun with goldseekers, the U.S. simply sought to modify rather than honor the existing treaty. Tensions along the Bozeman Trail continued to escalate. Then, in June of 1866, the U.S. held a talk at Fort Laramie with various Lakota bands. The government promised many gifts and benefits to the Sioux and glossed over the object of the government’s interest—to negotiate a new treaty which would close off the Powder River area and the Bozeman Trail to the Indians in order to insure continued gold supplies and emigration into Montana. In the middle of the treaty talks, a military man informed some of the Indian negotiators he had orders to build forts along the Bozeman Trail to protect settlers moving into Montana. The Sioux were outraged at this news, as it was in direct violation of the 1851 Treaty and had not been mentioned in the council meetings. Thus the treaty talks ended abruptly. Red Cloud delivered a speech about white betrayal and treachery and led the Sioux delegation north vowing to fight all who invaded their territory as set down in the 1851 Treaty.

The troubles in 1866–1868 in the Powder River region, often called “Red Cloud’s War,” resulted in a clear victory for the Lakota. The Lakota had denied the Bozeman Trail to virtually all immigrant travel. Army supply trains had to fight their way through, and soldiers were bottled up in their forts. The Indians had little need to negotiate a treaty and so ignored all government overtures to do so. Finally in 1868 the soldiers abandoned their forts along the Bozeman Trail as a way to restart treaty negotiations. By this time the U.S. government was set on confining the Sioux to proscribed territory but first it needed a treaty.

Continue to the Establishment of the Great Sioux Reservation...